Speaker March 18th, 10:00 am, Is the Sun Setting on Western Epistemologies?

 Is the Sun Setting on Western Epistemologies?

When: March 18th, 10:00 am  Venue: Zoom Click here to join

Audience: Faculty & Staff         Who: Nisha Toomey, OISE 

Here in Canada, the “Western canon” (Western literature, philosophy, science, arts and music) has been favoured in our curricula at every level. This means that students enter higher education often believing that Western epistemologies are superior with little to no exposure to other knowledge systems. The prioritization of Western epistemologies has led to a “knowledge hegemony” where other forms of knowledge are considered to be less legitimate, less “true.” The implications of this on racialized and immigrant students are that they understand their traditional knowledge practices as inferior; they may in turn understand themselves as inferior. The implication on white/Western students is that they think of themselves and their knowledge systems as superior.

Yet, Indigenous sciences and philosophies came up with many of the theories Westerners did long ago; in general, many forms of “Western” knowledge are actually borrowed from those of other cultures. As decolonizing and postcolonial projects persist across the world, the Western canon of knowledge is exposed as just one of many forms of knowledge. People question the societal roles of museums, the narrow stories and representations in our media culture, and the role of universities and their research practices. We are experiencing a knowledge shift in which we all can play a role.

This workshop discusses the origins of Western knowledge hegemony in order to understand how colonial processes have blocked our access to diverse forms of knowledge. One of the assumptions of colonialism was that “civilized” white people were bringing superior forms of knowledge (and in turn, superior ways of being) to the countries they invaded; this assumption persists in the present. Drawing on work from Indigenous scholars including Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Eve Tuck and from Black feminist scholars including Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick, Toomey will explore the structural processes that hierarchize knowledge. Together we will discuss and examine our own assumptions and biases, and in turn think through how to best address these in class.

As Indigenous peoples across Canada are hired as university faculty, as media producers, journalists, and more, publics are increasingly exposed to Indigenous ways of being and knowing. In a time of supposed “reconciliation,” we have the responsibility to support a cultural and epistemological shift. In academia, we have the chance to “Indigenize.” This workshop ends with a discussion of what “Indigenizing the academy” means and our responsibilities to this process as educators.



Last Modified: February 3, 2021